John Lennon – Working Class Hero

This song was a favorite of mine of John Lennon when I was younger. He took some flak about this one and Imagine when it came to being a Working Class Hero and having all of his possessions. His answer was

“What would you suggest I do? Give everything away and walk the streets? The Buddhist says, “Get rid of the possessions of the mind.” Walking away from all the money would not accomplish that. It’s like the Beatles. I couldn’t walk away from the Beatles. That’s one possession that’s still tagging along, right?”

When I was 18 this song was a powerful one to listen to…It still is…For me, the song was about the differences between the social classes. How some could be exploited and how people use ideologies to justify manipulating people. The song was on John’s debut album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.

Boston’s WBCN banned the song for its use of the word “f_ _king”.In Australia, the album was released with the expletive removed from the song and the lyrics censored on the inner sleeve.

From Songfacts

This song caused a fair amount of controversy for John Lennon, as his detractors pointed out that he was raised in an upper-middle-class home by his aunt and had no right to call himself a working-class hero. In an interview with Rolling Stone just three days before his death, Lennon explained: “The thing about the ‘Working Class Hero’ song that nobody ever got right was that it was supposed to be sardonic – it had nothing to do with socialism, it had to do with ‘If you want to go through that trip, you’ll get up to where I am, and this is what you’ll be.’ Because I’ve been successful as an artist, and have been happy and unhappy, and I’ve been unknown in Liverpool or Hamburg and been happy and unhappy.”

The final take as it appears on the album is actually a composite of two different performances done at two different studios. If you listen carefully (it might require headphones) you can clearly hear the sound of the guitar and vocals change where the edit was made about halfway through the song. 

The word f–king appears twice in the lyrics. On the printed lyrics that came with the album, the word was obscured.

Why did Lennon curse in the song? Yoko Ono explained in a 1998 interview with Uncut: “He told me, ‘That’s part of being working class. It won’t be working class if what you say is all very clean and very proper.”

The line, “If you want to be like the folks on the hill” is a reference to the Beatles song “The Fool On The Hill.”

Green Day recorded this for the benefit album Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur, and they also performed the song on the 2007 season finale of American Idol. In their version, the last two lines are from the original John Lennon song – John sings them. 

Lennon told the January 1971 edition of Rolling Stone about this song: “I think its concept is revolutionary, and I hope it’s for workers and not for tarts and fags. I hope it’s what “Give Peace A Chance” was about, but I don’t know. On the other hand, it might just be ignored. I think it’s for the people like me who are working class – whatever, upper or lower – who are supposed to be processed into the middle classes, through the machinery, that’s all. It’s my experience, and I hope it’s just a warning to people. I’m saying it’s a revolutionary song; not the song itself but that it’s a song for the revolution.”

This song seemed to resist all Lennon’s efforts to record a satisfactory vocal. Tape op Andy Stephens recalled to Uncut magazine August 2010 that he watched the former Beatle obsess about it day after day, singing “an endless number of takes… well over 100.. Probably 120, 130.”

Stephens added that Lennon became more frustrated as each take passed. “If the mix in his headphones wasn’t exactly what he wanted, he would take them off and slam them into the wall,” he recalled. “he wouldn’t say, ‘Can I have a bit more guitar?’ He would literally rip the cans off his head and smash them into the wall, then walk out of the studio.”

Working Class Hero

As soon as you’re born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool
Till you’re so f_ _king crazy you can’t follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free
But you’re still f_ _king peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

There’s room at the top they’re telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill

A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be
If you want to be a hero well just follow me
If you want to be a hero well just follow me

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

35 thoughts on “John Lennon – Working Class Hero”

    1. Cyndi Lauper did a live version in 1990 at a tribute concert that sticks in my head…the slide guitar really fit that version. I’ll need to find the Faithfull version.
      Yes it was…I’m surprised it got any airplay

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep, Cyndi Lauper did an awesome cover version. Maybe not as strong as Marianne Faithfull’s, but top. Noteworthy about this Lennon song is the personal handling from the bands and musicians who interpreted it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think the musicians bring out what they feel…in this song that would be some anger. That is how it affected me.
        I just heard Marianne’s version. You are right…it is made for her and I like the stark background…its almost hypnotic.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. From reading part 1 of Mark’s “All These Years” it was clear from an early age that John was going to do everything he could do avoid being a 9 to 5er–and he succeeded. a great song off of his best album IMO.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John in a 9-5 would not have worked well for either party. Again what Bowie said about him comes to mind… He takes something raw and direct like this and sells it to the masses.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I would love to go there and see…of course I would love to go to Liverpool one day and see everything.
      Hope you had a good trip Eden!


      1. Pictures are always great… I have problems deciding everyday also. I made an index mostly so I would not double post. I did double post last week on an obscure R&B song… It’s a wonder it didn’t happen before.


  2. Strangely enough although I had heard of the song, I don’t know that I ever heard it until Green Day released their version, which was all over radio, then I heard John’s quite often. Powerful lyrics, good but I don’t think near his best overall work. Shows again though why John seemed by far the most complicated of the Beatles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bowie once commented about Lennon that he had a gift…he could package Avant-Garde to the masses….same with these raw words and make it accessible to everyone.
      When I was 18 this song stirred me up…it is still powerful.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. that was probably true. I love most of his music, but like I said, he seemed a man of many contradictions. All of which arguably made his art more interesting


    1. I think he became too self conscious with it…that and wanting to shock especially through this period. He lost some of his idealism as he got older.
      I totally get what you are saying…


  3. It’s an astonishingly direct and honest song. I think it’s because of the era, and where he was at in his life, and with Yoko. I was blown away by this when I was around 20. That’s it. The song is naked. It’s just a vocal and guitar, but it’s a big sound, commanding, emotional, crystal clear, and precise. Rarely has a message been put across so evocatively.

    But even when I was 20 I thought the lyrics were more than a bit ambivalent. Being solidly working class myself I could fully relate to the first part, but not the, “You’re still a F’ing peasant as far as I can see”. I never resolved whether this was pro working class or a bit anti, and so I concluded it’s got bits of both.

    I absolutely love the part where the recordings are spliced and the song sounds a bit different. The change is marvelous.

    Really a great song, and in the end, the ambiguity is part of why it is.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Same with me…when I was 18 this song really got me riled up and angry…and thinking. The peasant line always got to me. I looked at it as we are peasants under control…we as working class as a general statement… but I might have taken it too literal… Now I’ll be thinking about that today.
      Yes the splice…I didn’t know he had that many takes in this. His voice just cuts through like a knife…like you said naked and it works extrememly well.
      This one still works…my 19 year old son listens to it and loves it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. He always considered himself one in interviews but yea the ending hints that way in the song. He doesn’t hold anything back in this one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What I get from John’s lyrics is almost like a sarcastic way of exposing the way our societies, governments, authority figures indoctrinate us since childhood to follow a path and a goal already set up for “us”, for their own benefit.
    I wonder how well known was this song when it first came out. Probably most radio stations didn’t play it because of the F word, but I’m sure they wouldn’t play Dylan’s Masters of War either, even with no F words. It’s an anti-establishment song. Most radio stations are corporate-owned=establishment. We, “working class heroes”, had to go out and buy the record. Once the internet came in, the genie went out of the bottle.
    I discovered this song in the 90s!!!! because I read about it and looked for it, otherwise I would have never known it existed.
    Thanks for highlighting it in your post! May young people know it and dissect it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had his debut album so I heard it. It shook me up and made me angry when I was young. My 19 year old son likes it now so it works.
      I personally think it’s more powerful than Imagine…not better but more powerful because it’s so stark and straight to the point.

      Probably only underground FM radio stations played it with the word bleeped out is my guess.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Believe it or not, it is my first time hearing the song, by Lennon including a cover by someone else. Sometimes that’s an advantage because it can be heard with fresh ears, even though the song is almost 50 years old (geesh!) The first thing that hits me about it is the song sounds eerily like a Townes VanZandt tune. Where it diverges is where John and Townes focused their message. Townes was more focused on the inner turmoils of living the working class lifestyle (including day worker), John’s is projected outward as in the worker and his place in society. I think these two views are complementary and create a balanced message. Max, thanks for introducing this powerhouse anthem for freedom to me. Yes, I can see why the pow’rs tha’ be tried to bury it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought you would like it when I posted it. This one stirs some things up in people that is for sure. It’s more biting than Imagine.
      Townes and Bruce wrote a lot about the day to day life… Lennon sees injustice and hurls it back at the people responsible…while pointing it out more. I hardly ever try to put my interpretations on songs but this one I had to. The song is still relevant. It hasn’t not been relevant since it was released.

      Liked by 1 person

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